Cabo Steve asked that I post my next brisk yet thorough screed up on top as a bit of filler, rather than hiding out down in the comments, and I'm happy to oblige despite the fact that the Clips are making it very tough to get excited about them these days.
Eric Gordon is far and away the brightest spot on the Clippers at this point, and over the past week he settled into a routinely high level of competency, getting his 15-20 ppg and maintaining virtually all of his averages. He's managing to do this under some duress, as defenses are keeping very close track of him, he hasn't been immune from forcing things just a tad, and there are stretches when he doesn't get the ball quite as much as one would like. The fact that the small forwards were wiped out (Al Thornton, Mardy Collins, Davis who shall not be named) a while ago is making things tougher as well. Still, just one more big game would have nice, and somehow Gordon being just very good is less than exciting.
I think it's safe to say that we're all extremely happy with last year's draft pick. Gordon has been remarkable and outstanding in all sorts of different ways ever since he started getting significant minutes. His lack of early playing time and the Clippers concurrent dismal start, and their subsequently even more dismal play through the rest of the season has hurt his recognition to a degree. but he has made some pretty good progress in that regard.
But I think it's important to remember that at this time last year we were geeked up about Al Thornton, who had such a strong second half. Gordon has been much more impressive than Thornton, in all sorts of different categories, beginning with consistency. I don't think many of us are worried that Gordon will have the same type of disappointing sophomore season like Thornton did this year. Thornton was a great draft pick at the bottom of the lottery, and he does a pretty good job of playing small forward. But he remains inconsistent, and no one would say that he made a huge leap forward this season. He was semi-okay holding down the starting job after Maggette's departure, but he barely managed to consolidate his gains from the end of last season, and that wasn't really good enough. It's too early to give up on Thornton or to think he can't make some significant improvement, but his ceiling has come down quite a bit.
It all seemed relatively clear at this time last year. The weak spots for the Clips were at point guard and shooting guard. If they had won the lottery, they would have taken Derrick Rose. It was assumed that they didn't need a big man, so that left Mayo, Westbrook, and Gordon, and the Clips were extremely happy with their guy, even happier after signing Baron Davis. After Mayo, Gordon was the pure shooting guard. It was a bit of a risk taking Gordon over the combo guards (after Westbrook) like Augustine and Bayless, but after signing Davis and then seeing the way that Gordon performed at SG, it's obvious that the Clips got the right guy.
But what happens this year? This team is fubar on such a massive scale that right now it seems that Eric Gordon is the one and only guy on the team that makes any sense. The only way to approach understanding the Clippers is by looking at them from the bottom up. The rookie is the rock solid player. DJordan and Mike Taylor are good young players, successful 2nd round picks. Brian Skinner showed in the past week that he has some value. Mardy Collins is a nice surprise, and Fred Jones has even greater utility than Collins. That's 5 decent bench players, with Taylor the only one firmly in the rotation. There's also Steve Novak who can do his job, provide excitement, and should have gotten more minutes much earlier in the season.
That's it. The next guy who makes some sense is Thornton. He's obviously not good enough to make a bad team any better, but he can play his position most nights. He might improve slightly in the offseason, and perhaps he will be able to understand his role better and make some good adjustments knowing that he will be playing alongside Gordon.
Randolph probably comes next, because he's not going anywhere with his contract, although the same thing can easily be said with Baron Davis and Chris Kaman. Camby, the least noxious of the 4, is the one who has actual trade value and an expiring contract. We had hoped that these guys could come back from injuries and play together and give some indication of what the future might look like. Instead, we know even less than we did before. I suppose we knew, though we didn't want to admit it, that they would have a lot of trouble trying to stay healthy. Firm confirmation of this fact doesn't exactly provide a blueprint on how to move forward.
So what do the Clippers do going into the draft this year? Best player available seems a good rule of thumb when everything is so confused. Assuming the Clips don't get the top pick, where Griffin is a no-brainer, do you draft a big, a wing, or a pg?
Rubio is enticing, but he could be gone, and picking the next PG (Jennings?) on a team with Baron Davis signed through 2013 and Mike Taylor, with Collins, Jones, and Gordon as 3rd string options, is a tricky proposition.
Jordan Hill's projected upside is "a better rebounding Chris Wilcox," which doesn't sound especially exciting to Clipper fans. Hasheem Thabeet can block shots, but his rough edges duplicate Deandre Jordan's weaknesses--Jordan should progress to give the Clips what Thabeet might, and you don't need two of those guys. Of the two, Jordan Hill makes more sense, but there's a strong fear that he's going to slip into the Wilcox/Melvin Ely mediocrity level, unworthy of a 3rd pick.
And of course, wouldn't you know, there are no outstanding SF prospects in this draft. The threshold is obviously Al Thornton, and no one in the upper reaches of draft prospects looks to be even close to as good as Thornton--and we just took a brief glance at Thornton's limitations.
That leaves James Harden. Harden is an intriguing player, but he's a natural SG--I didn't think that he would be around for the Clips, and he would be perfect, except for the fact that the Clips got the perfect guy last year. Typical for the Clips--the best player available plays the position of arguably their best player. So you have to wonder if Harden can play undersized SF as well as Gordon plays undersized SG, or similar permutations. And the big question is this: is Harden the anti-Thornton, the savvy left-hander who scores points but makes other players better? Here's hoping.
Good thing no one is worried about GM Mike Dunleavy making the right call.